Mar 21, 2008

[LiveJournal] Another LJ Strike

Flickr: Stéphane Delbecque - LiveJournal has left the building
LiveJournal has left the building
by Stéphane Delbecque.

If you're a LiveJournal user like myself, then you must have encountered at least one friend who posted the following message (or something similar):

For those of you who don't already know, there has been a strike scheduled for Friday, March 21st, 2008, during which we hope to have many members of LiveJournal provide LJ with absolutely no content for twenty-four hours. This means no posting and no commenting. If you post elsewhere and have it set up to be posted through a feed on LiveJournal, don't do it. Stay away from LiveJournal for twenty-four hours. We are not simply users who can be tossed to the side and ignored. We are the people who make up LiveJournal. Without us, without the content we create, without our words, our voices, our creativity, our participation, there would be no LiveJournal. This is a fact, and it needs to be realized and understood and then taken in to consideration when making decisions regarding the way that LiveJournal is run. The strike is only a few days away, so there isn't all too much time to prepare. While this is unfortunate, it isn't enough to keep this strike from taking place. It will take place, the second it is meant to, and it would be best to have as many people take part as possible. Please, spread the word. Spread it fast. There are only a few days to organize this. If you find that you care about LiveJournal or care about the people you interact with on LiveJournal or simply want it to remain a place where you can entertain yourself without constant censorship and money-hungry practices being thrown in without the consideration of those who use the service, act now. If you don't wish to spread the word, that is fine, but please: refrain from using LiveJournal on Friday, March 21st. Do something else for a change. It's for a good cause.

In the past year it seems more and more LJ's userbase has been growing increasingly disappointed with the various business decisions being made related to the site by the various owners who have taken over the once-independent blogging community site. I can't say that I blame them - many changes don't quite sit too well with me either although I'm not sure how well thought-out this latest strike is when you get down to it.

This all started when the Russia-based media company SUP acquired LiveJournal last December, the second changing-of-hands for the site after Six Apart first purchased the site. As expected, changes were bound to happen over the first 100 days and to sort of manage those changes and the expectations around, the LiveJournal Advisory Board was announced with some pretty big name LJ users such as LiveJournal inventor Brad Fitzpatrick

Then the big change happened last March 12, 2008 when LiveJournal, Inc. killed off Basic (free) accounts for new users rather silently without an official announcement but just a change in the FAQs that read thus:

Basic Account is an option available to accounts which were created before March 12, 2008. No account created after this date can be turned into a Basic Account.

Naturally once the LJ community got wind of this, they were outraged (myself included). A lot of users opted to remain on the Basic / non-ad-supported level of accounts since they were just here to blog, provide more content for the site as a whole and not deal with the monetization aspect. Still, there were benefits to the Plus / free ad-supported level that many users opted for, which was good since it did provide revenue for the site apart from those users who actually pay for their accounts.

A lot of people weighed in their thoughts on the matter, one of them being LJ Founder Brad himself. Also, here's Danah Boyd's reaction to the change - she's also on the Advisory Board. It seems despite members of the LJ Advisory Board voting against this change, the business side of the site decided to go on with their decision to remove the Basic level and thus force all new sign-ups to have ad-supported blogs at the very least.

LiveJournal, Inc.'s official statement didn't really do much for the user community - essentially saying that they were sorry that the change was so abrupt but touch shit, the decision stands. There are now at least 5000 comments on that news statement pretty much all angry about the decision.

So now the users tried to mobilize a strike over the course of this week - here are the official reasons for the content strike. It seems to have built off the context-driven LJ philosophy espoused by Brad Fitzpatrick, which I think makes sense, although there were weird offshoots of the strike that are supporting the strike for various reasons. The 24-hour content strike is set to start in about 20 minutes from now at 12:00am GMT on March 21, 2008. I'm going to do my best to support it by not visiting LJ at all for the next 24 hours.

In terms of the reasons for the strike, I can more or less support the belief that LiveJournal, Inc. needs to work on its method of communicating such changes in the future. Since they opted to even create an Advisory Board, it implies their wanting to get the support of the user community in making any changes and that they value the opinions of these bloggers. If they just wanted to run things like a business, then they never should have formed the Board.

However from a business side of things, I can see why the decision needs to be made. There are very few social networks that do not rely on some level of monetization. The same users who want LJ to continue to have a free option are the same people who spends hours and hours on sites supported by contextual advertising like Google AdSense. Heck, most of the major social networks like MySpace, Facebook and Friendster are all highly ad-supported and even smaller sites like Mutiply are also ad-supported. We still continue to cater to these sites and aren't forming strikes about them just yet.

So as the strike begins, I think we need to remain focused on the real reason for it - it's not about whether or not a Basic level of accounts should exist, I think. I support the strike since SUP implied that they valued the users in actions like the creation of the LiveJournal Advisory Board and need to support that philosophy if they're serious about it. If not, then let's dissolve the board and just get on with our lives with a perfectly non-nonsensical business relationship since that's what SUP seems to want now. Let's see just how many users remain when LJ stops being a community and just another monetized, business-driven blogging platform.

Only time will tell.

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